Onward director Dan Scanlon wanted to expand the role of Pixar’s first LGBT+ character, thanks to the genius of actor Lena Waithe.
Emmy-winner Waithe, who is best known for her work on sitcom Master of None as well as writing this year’s Queen & Slim, voices cyclops police officer Specter in the new animated adventure.
She appears in just one scene, but makes a clear reference to her “girlfriend” — making her the studio’s first openly gay character.
Disney has been criticised in the past for vanishingly brief LGBT+ moments in movies including Beauty and the Beast and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, but Scanlon says he wished there had been more room for Waithe’s character.
“After we recorded her, we wished we had expanded [the role],” he tells Yahoo Movies UK.
“Lena Waithe is not only a great actress but a great writer and she improvises and was just such a joy to work with.
“We thought: 'oh man, I want to do a movie with her again'.
“I think it's a wonderful embarrassment of riches that we have a cast of people who, even in doing small parts, bring them to life and elevate them and keep you wanting more.”
Read more: Onward didn’t always have fantasy setting
Producer Kori Rae says that she hopes Specter will be the first of many diverse characters in upcoming Pixar movies.
She says: “We really wanted to make sure that the world of Onward was representative of our world and all that it entails. So I hope we'll see more [representation].”
Pixar movies have previously contained hints of LGBT+ characters, with audiences apparently spotting same-sex couples in Finding Dory and Toy Story 4.
Dory director Andrew Stanton did not confirm whether the characters in his movie were gay, telling USA Today: "They can be whatever you want them to be. There's no right or wrong answer."
Waithe shared the news of her character’s sexual orientation with her 841,000 Instagram followers this week, along with a rainbow emoji.
Onward follows elf siblings Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt) as they travel on a quest to complete a spell that will revive their father for 24 hours.
The story has personal resonance for Scanlon, who was inspired when he heard an audio recording of his own father, who died when he and his brother were young.
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“I think it, in some ways, made it easier to make the movie because I had a touchstone,” he says.
“I had something that I believed in, something that felt true to me and something that I had questions and fears about.
“I think those are always good when you're making a film, to have those rich, dramatic things bopping around in your head.
“At Pixar, oftentimes, [stories] do come from a personal place and I hope that's why they connect with other people and are lasting.”
The film’s cast also includes Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer, Mel Rodriguez and Ali Wong.
It’s not the only Pixar film due to arrive in cinemas this year, with Pete Docter’s Soul set to be released this summer.
Read more: Pixar unveils Soul trailer
Rae says she believes there’s a “little rivalry” between the teams behind the two movies, though both she and Scanlon emphasise the collaborative environment at Pixar.
Scanlon adds: “You do feel like you're playing for the same team and there's a certain pride when one of the films that you helped on does well.”
Onward is in UK cinemas from 6 March.